Jesus used stories and metaphors to communicate powerful truths. Mark even writes of Jesus, “Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them” (Mark 4:33-34). Many of us could easily recall the stories of Jesus: the Parable of the Prodigal Son, The Parable of the Good Samaritan, et cetera.
Recently someone mentioned something to the effect that I used too many stories in my messages. Granted, there is such a thing as an excess in anything. But, I have found that God Himself uses stories as a means of communicating great truths. The Bible is replete with stories about people that either serve as an inspiration (showing one what one should do) or as an example (showing one what one should NOT do). That being said, God brought forth an illustration that served a great point.
This illustration was not original. In fact, it is based upon one of Jesus’ own teachings. When Jesus first called the disciples to service, He called them from occupations of fishing for fish to occupations of fishing for people. Mark records, “One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, ‘Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!’ And they left their nets at once and followed him. A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men” (Mark 1:19-20). The disciples were cast-fishermen. They did not use poles and lines. They threw nets. I never thought much about this type of fishing until a recent Sunday.
On a recent Sunday, my family and I took a much needed vacation. Although a pastor, I was admittedly a heathen that particular Sunday. We did not make it to a worship service. However, God would bring the worship service to us. Like most things here recently, we caught the timing of the tides wrong. The tide was high…extremely high. The waters were crashing so far up shore that there was only a small space between the waves and the sand dunes. (In coastal North Carolina, it is prohibited to get on the sand dunes as they are a sanctuary for sea turtles.) This proved beneficial as God would bring forth the following illustration.
As we were enjoying the limited amount of beach allowed to us at the time, we noticed what appeared to be two men who seemed to be of Vietnamese descent. One of the men lay under the stairs falling asleep. The other was in the ocean cast-fishing. Some call this type of fishing “saning.” The fisherman carries a net with weights on the outer edges. The net is connected to ropes. The fisherman threw the net out in the ocean. The weights would cause the net to sink. Then, the fisherman would pull the net back. If successful, the net would capture some fish in the net. I noticed as the fisherman cast the net into the water several times with no avail. For over an hour, this fisherman persistently threw the net out in the ocean with no success. I started cheering for the fisherman. I even prayed, “Lord, please help this persistent fisherman find success.” Then, the Holy Spirit brought the passage of Scripture to my mind when Jesus said, “I will show you how to fish for people.” It then hit me. This was the same type of fishing that the disciples employed. This was the same illustration that Jesus used to call the disciples. This illustration shows the certain attributes it takes to be a fisherman/woman of Jesus. The fishing illustration shows the following three principles:
Cast-Fishing Takes Patience
The Vietnamese fisherman showed the patience that cast-fishing takes. One could suppose that all fishing takes patience, but when one is physically exerting oneself consistently with no results, the depth of patience is deepened. The fisherman cast, re-cast, and re-cast again with no results. This did not stop him from his endeavor.
In many ways, the Christian ministry is the same way. One might try several times to reach a soul for Christ with no results. A Sunday school worker might teach for several years without seeing the results of her teaching. A worker may go unnoticed for several years without praise. A pastor may serve for several years without seeing substantial growth in one’s church. Yet, that does not mean that fishing is not taking place. The following story is told of George Muller:
“One day George Muller began praying for five of his friends. After many months, one of them came to the Lord. Ten years later, two others were converted. It took 25 years before the fourth man was saved. Muller persevered in prayer until his death for the fifth friend, and throughout those 52 years he never gave up hoping that he would accept Christ! His faith was rewarded, for soon after Muller’s funeral the last one was saved” (Our Daily Bread, from http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/p/perseverance.htm, accessed September 11th, 2013).
Keep preaching, keep teaching, keep praying, and keep fishing. One day you will see the fruits of your labor! Another principle was found in the fisherman that day: the principle of work.
Cast-Fishing Takes Work
The Vietnamese fisherman also displayed a profound work ethic. He was not afraid to work. The fisherman tirelessly cast the net in the ocean. He put forth the effort to make a catch. Likewise, the ministry takes a lot of work. My grandfather, who is also a minister, jokingly said, “I knew I was called to preach when I started craving fried chicken and didn’t want to work.” Obviously, he was joking. The joke addressed a stigma that many have about ministers. But any minister who takes one’s job seriously will tell you that ministry takes work. A recent Lifeway study showed: “A telephone survey of more than 1,000 senior pastors indicated a full 65 percent of them work 50 or more hours a week – with 8 percent saying they work 70 or more hours. Meetings and electronic correspondence consume large amounts of time for many ministers, while counseling, visitation, family time, prayer and personal devotions suffer in too many cases” (Kelly, Lifeway.com). Why is it that most pastors have to work so hard? It may be due to the fact that fewer and fewer fishers are found in the church these days. This is why it is so important for each Christian to find his or her calling and fulfill that calling. You will be held responsible for the work that God has called you to do. Do not think that you can load down your pastor and not expect to be held accountable for what YOU were supposed to do for the Lord. There is one final principle found in the cast-fisherman: that of faith.
Cast-Fishing Takes Faith
The term faith is just as elusive as the term religion these days. The biblical definition of faith is a trust and dependency. The fisherman on the beach showed great trust that he would eventually catch something at some point. If he did not think that he would eventually catch something, he would not have kept casting the net in the ocean. Fishing takes faith. The Christian ministry requires this same type of faith. One must have faith that God will live up to God’s promises. God told Isaiah, “It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it” (Isaiah 55:11). As I learn more of the sovereignty of God, I am finding that God has a reason for His word being preached. Perhaps it is to bring conviction? Perhaps it is to bring consolation? Perhaps it is to bring edification? Whatever the reason, God has a purpose. Even if you do not see immediate results, your work matters. For instance, the great evangelist Dr. Billy Graham has led thousands to Christ Jesus. Many have entered the kingdom of God due to the Spirit-filled preaching of Dr. Graham. However, Dr. Graham came to the Lord by the preaching of another. Dr. Graham accepted Christ as his Savior at a camp-meeting service under the ministry of Mordecai Ham in 1934. Ham came to the Lord through the ministry of Billy Sunday. Billy Sunday was converted through the ministry of J. Wilbur Chapman. Chapman was converted through the ministry of Dwight L. Moody. Moody came to know the Lord through the ministry of a Sunday school teacher by the name of Edward Kimball (http://www2.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/faq/13.htm). If it had not been for one Sunday school teacher, none of the people who know Christ through the ministry of Graham would know God today. What you do for the Lord matters even when everyone else claims it its worthless!!!
Graham crusade—————>Billy Graham————->Mordecai Ham—>Billy Sunday—–>J. Wilbur Chapman—>D.L. Moody—–>
Edward Kimball (it all started with a SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHER!!!) Well..actually…it started with Jesus, but you get the point.
All Christians can learn a lot from the cast-fisherman. Jesus brilliantly resembled the Christian ministry to fishing. Both tasks are incredibly similar. Like fishing, the ministry takes patience. Like fishing, the ministry takes work. Like fishing, the ministry takes faith.
The story of the Vietnamese cast-fisherman is not over. My family and I walked down the beach as the tide went back out to sea. I noticed that as we prepared to leave that the fisherman had indeed caught a great catch of fish. After we walked for an hour, we came back to notice that the fisherman had a bucket full of fish. His patience, work, and faith paid off. He had something to show for his efforts.
Likewise, those who engage in Christian ministry will eventually see the effects of their efforts. It may be now or it may be in eternity, but eventually we will find…like Edward Kimball…that our work may have been far more beneficial than we ever could imagine.
So, I close with a logo that appeared on a Christian t-shirt: “Keep working for the Lord…the pay isn’t much, but the retirement plan is OUT OF THIS WORLD!!!”
Still Fishing for the Lord,
http://www2.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/faq/13.htm. Accessed September 11, 2013.
Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007.
Our Daily Bread, from http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/p/perseverance.htm, accessed September 11th, 2013
Kelly, Mark. “LifeWay Research Finds Pastors’ Long Work Hours Come at Expense of People, Ministry,” January 5, 2010. http://www.lifeway.com/Article/LifeWay-Research-finds-pastors-long-work-hours-can-come-at-the-expense-of-people-ministry. Accessed September 11, 2013.